Thursday, March 31, 2011

What I Know

This is a continuation of last week's story for The Red Dress Club  writing challenge. You can catch up here, if you like.

Also, the counselor character is a guy. That didn't come across in last week's story, but I'm sticking to it. So the guy in this story? Same counselor person as last week. A guy. 

The prompt this week was to write a first-person account of an annoying character/personality.

Because I wear the Red Dress, I welcome constructive critique.

What I Know
I've done this job long enough to learn a few things. Not that people take the time to ask. But believe me, I know things.

Thirty years, I've taught here. Rio Verde Middle School. Of course, back then we called it a Jr. High and it was okay to admit that some kids are left behind.

Now students are treated like celebrities with their IEP plans and 504 plans and accommodations. There's one boy that has to sit right up front because of his hearing aids. I thought kids like that were supposed to be quiet, but not this one. "Hey, Ms. Sombrowski, I hear you are linked to the Al-Gebra Network," he says, and the kids laugh. I don't know what he's talking about. I'm not sure he does either, being handicapped like that. 

Then there's this Oriental girl whose parents are getting a divorce. She stomped to my desk one day with a card from the counselor. Her hands were shaking a bit as she handed it to me. It read, "Emergency Session," and explained that I was supposed to let her out of class at any time so she could talk about her feelings.

Do you know what I did? I said, "Girlie, sit down. You're not going anywhere."

She glared at me and stuttered out a "But..." I could tell she was about to say something fresh.

I said, "Watch yourself, girlie. You know why."  Her eyes widened as much as an Oriental's eyes can. She nodded once, then slumped back to her seat. She spent the entire hour drawing pictures in her notebook, while I taught linear equations. She'll have to learn it again on her own time.

Of course Sam Jorgensen, that new guidance counselor came in to scold me about that. He waltzed into my classroom, wearing shorts and a baseball cap, and said, "You need to honor her need to talk. She's in a fragile place right now."

I told him, "I'm in a fragile place with my curriculum."

"I hear you say that your curriculum is important to you."  I knew what he was doing---trying to treat me like one of his nut jobs. Spare me. I've been teaching longer than he's been alive.
"No," I said, "What's important to me is teaching kids to stand on their own two feet."

"By shaming them?" He paced as he spoke. "By taking them down a notch?" He sat on a desk, rubbed his brow a bit, and took a deep breath. Some hippie yoga thing, probably.

"Look," I said. "I understand that you need to do your job, since parents aren't doing it anymore. But math is too important. Tell her she can come to you during English, or shop."

He opened his mouth like he was going to say something else, then nodded. "Okay." He turned to walk away, then stopped. "While I'm here, let me ask you---do you notice anything going on with Kassie Miller?"

"Which one is she again?"

"Donut girl."

Right. The vampire who threw a pastry at me. "Did you punish her?"

"Three days of ISS and you'll be getting an apology."

I nodded. "Good."

"So you don't notice anything else unusual?" he asked.

"Besides her note about the abortion?"

He stiffened, and caught his breath. I leaned in, almost whispering, "I've taught for thirty years. Believe me, I know more than you would ever expect."

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Good Uncle

My brother, who lives way too far away, wrote this poem about a conversation we had yesterday.

I miss him. He blogs here.

Bricks (via Typetrigger)

We can finally have this conversation
now that I can understand
his words, the older one demanding my
sister's attention when I call
far too seldom. Without transition
she begs off and regulates, capturing
motherhood better than all the memories
we share. Her reprimands and counts of three
make me smile in ways I wish she could see.
She always apologizes and it's never necessary.

Now is the time of Legos.
The older one makes and follows plans. He is
methodical, and his brother watches him. I know
from my sister's capable description mostly.
(They live time zones away.)

They have hundreds of interlocking bricks.
I remember from my childhood wheels and various
rectangular pieces and the odd leftover duplo
with syrupy nostalgia. I intend to watch
with approval, perhaps on carpets or
at child-sized tables with them
before too much time passes
and they've moved on.
The younger boy has words now
also, and it is time to say hello.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stealing My Religion

Things I plan on stealing from other faith traditions: 

1. LDS (the Mormons): Family Home Evening. I will find a way to make my husband play Scrabble with me, and I'll tell him since we aren't real Mormons, we encourage cocktails and profanity. 

2. Catholicism: Composting. Owen's preschool composts. Consequently, he twists his hands, sighs deeply, and questions, "Why don't you love the Earth?" every time I throw a strawberry husk into the trash.

3. Judaism: Challah. Obviously. This is a no-brainer. 

4. Evangelical Christianity: Call and Response. I dream of the day that my children acknowledge my statements. Perhaps they will answer me the first (as opposed to the fifth) time if I sing like James Brown.

5. Jedi: Jedi Mind Tricks. I would use this puppy all day long. Me: "You will not charge me for this latte." Barista: "I will not charge you for this latte." Me: "You will be generous with the chocolate sprinkles." Barista: "I will be generous with the chocolate sprinkles."

6. Hinduism: Yoga. I kinda do this already.

7. Islam: The Hijab, or head scarf. I kinda do this already too, except that I call it a baseball cap. I wear it not out of devotion, but because I often neglect washing my hair.

8. Atheism: Reason. Whether it be purchasing electric blue nail polish or teaching my children all of the lyrics to Miley Cyrus's "Party in the USA," I do dumb things that I regret on an hourly basis.

I know that there are more than eight major religions out there, but I'm stopping here before I start a holy war. After all, as a Lutheran, one of my traits is overthinking things and making blanket apologies.

So, what would you borrow from another faith tradition?  Or what do you like best about your own?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Perfect Circles

"Please sit down," I pointed to the yellow chair and she slumped into it, her head bent.  I could see the blond roots sprouting from her black hair. She crossed her arms, an impenetrable fortress.

The pose was classic eighth grade. She made my job easy today by wearing a black tank top. I noticed no vertebrae screaming out like prayers. This wasn't an eating disorder. And if she was cutting, it wasn't on her arms.

Yet, she was in my office, clutching a twisted pink paper. She had never been here before. Something had changed. Or snapped.  "Kassie, please read me the referral form."

Her eyes were red-lined with tears and smudged with eyeliner. She held my gaze long enough that I wanted to check my teeth for errant lettuce."Haven't you already read it?" she mumbled, "Can't you just give me ISS?"

This was the part where I was supposed to give her a lecture about respect. Instead, I allowed her to dangle. "Read it, please."

She sighed and began: "Kassie Miller threw a donut at me after I intercepted a note. She knows that notes are not acceptable in our learning environment." She placed the note in her lap, and studied her scuffed Chuck Taylors.

"What happened? Have you lost your mind? I'm not even going to ask why you had a donut in algebra."

Folding the referral form, she laughed, "I guess because it was funny."

I pictured the soft cake, perhaps pink with sprinkles, flying through the air. As it made sweet contact with Mrs. Sombrowski, did the frosting coat her glasses? Leave crumbs under her pearly pink nails?  It was kinda funny. She'd be milking this one in the teacher's lounge for weeks.
I settled my features into a frown. "There's nothing funny about assault, young lady." 

She sat up straight, the chair legs creaking."What would you know about assault?"  Her eyes flashed, indignant. "What would you know about anything?" Each word was vinegar, lingering in the air.

Bingo. Finally, some emotion. I stared at her, and let her swim in her words for awhile.

She waited, then bit her lip as I let the silence grow between us. The clock ticked. One minute. Two. "What?" she said. "What do you want?" 

I had her. I rolled up my sleeve, taking care with each button until I exposed seven perfect circles, almost the shape of donuts. "Hey," I said, "Look at me."

She turned, and raised her eyebrows. The circles, haphazard plums and grays, crept up and down my forearm, twisted and violent.

"Do you know what these are?"

She shook her head, but I saw it. Deep inside, she knew.

I pointed to a circle above my elbow. "Cigar burns. From my Dad. This one's for letting the dog pee in the house." I rubbed my forearm. "This one? That's for bringing home a B. In algebra." Inch by inch, I covered each donut, until all she could see was my sleeve, my daily mask. 

I sat down, crossed my arms across my chest.  "So yeah. I know a little bit about assault. I suspect you do, too."

It was a guess. But survivors tend to recognize each other, and I decided to take the risk.

Her eyes pooled with fresh tears. Her entire faced turned in on itself. Heaving. Degraded.

She pointed to the intercepted note, resting on my desk--the scribblings that started it all. Pressing it into my hand, she whispered,  "Read it. It's all there."

This is my fictional contribution to The Red Dress Club. We were inspired by a picture of a truly decadent donut. I wear the Red Dress, so I welcome constructive critique.

I will probably continue this story next Friday.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Numbers of My Heart

36, 37, 2.5, and 5.

Our ages. A combined number of eighty and a half years on this earth. Two completed childhoods. Two master's degrees. Two careers. Two children.

Two lives just beginning, and yet moving with heartbreaking swiftness.

I close my eyes, and he's resting in my arms, sated and full after a feeding. His eyelids like rice paper, his mouth opened into a rosebud. For hours, we sat together in that glider, and I held him. I whispered my hopes and felt gratitude grow inside me, a new organ pumping humility and awe to each corner of my body.

And then came our second. I couldn't bask in him, as I did his brother. Preferring open spaces and sunlight, he wanted the freedom away from my arms. When he did allow me to smell his little head, it was like eating a truffle, each moment fleeting and delicious.

Now neither is a baby. The oldest is riding the big yellow bus next year, and my baby will start preschool two days a week. They need me less and less for basic functional needs, proving adept at making their own sandwiches and selecting clothes for the day.

It's just the start of their lives, and I feel like mine is shifting yet again. As it should. As magic as those moments were in that glider, my hands did grow numb, and my mind yearned to discuss ideas.

There were many days blurred with the heavy curtain of exhaustion. Many days of tears.

I'm leaving that behind, the sweetness and the drudgery. I am the mother of children, not babies.

As they begin their lives, which are separate from my own, I too, must separate. I must rediscover who else I am.

It began with the travel. It continues with the morning pages and the running. And yet, I long for more.

I return to those numbers, the four frames of my heart home.

37. I strive to read for at least thirty-seven minutes each night. To rediscover the books that challenged me, inspired me, helped me see the world.

36. I will do thirty six push ups or sit ups each day, so I can continue to keep up with the many men in my life, and live as long as I can.

5. I will reach out to five people outside of my family each day. I will pick up the phone, send a card, or meet in person. I will make human connections.

2.5 I will meditate. I will stop, listen, and simply wait for the still, quiet voice of the divine to guide me. For at almost three minutes a day, I will turn off the volume.

These numbers are as part of me as my skin, my hair, my daily breath. Even as circumstances and the numbers themselves change, they still inspire. I lean on them as they lean on me. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Light and Air

I bought my oldest an alarm clock, and told him that under no circumstances, "unless [he was] bleeding or on fire" was he to go downstairs until the clock read 7:00 AM.

Both boys woke up at 6:53. I heard their footsteps slam on the carpet as they ran in circles, squealing.

Seriously. Every morning they do this. 

Owen said, "Wait, I need to check the alarm clock."

"Alarm clock, Owen?"

"Yes, Joel, alarm clock."

There was silence as he examined the numbers. "Six-Five-Seven. Too early."

"Too early, Owen?"


I heard the thump of his body as Joel hit the floor, wailing in protest. He wasn't really crying as much as making crying sounds.

I generally ignore these tantrums, which sprout like mushrooms, and are smashed just as easily.

But my first-born does not share my resolve. He cooed, as one would to a small child (unless--ahem--one is heartless), "It's okay, Buddy. I love you. We can go down soon, I promise."

His brother hiccuped and sniffled, "Hug, Owen?"

"Okay." The wailing ceased. They paused for a moment, then my youngest yelped, "I happy now!"

"We can go downstairs," Owen said, "The clock says Seven-Zero-Zero."

I listened to their footsteps tumble down the stairs, and blinked back my tears.

Yes, they will fight. Joel antagonizes. Owen is insufferably bossy.

But, for a moment, grace floated, as effervescent as light and air.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


"Pick up some bananas," I said. "If they look good."

 He grinned. "I'm pretty sure they're going to look good here."

Ten minutes later, he returned to our guest house, holding a case of Piton beer and the bananas. Smaller than the ones back home, these St. Lucian bananas nestled together, curled and cozy.

I selected one, and sat down on the balcony. Peeling back the sun-drenched wrapper, I took a bite.

Flavor. An explosion, scattering each taste bud with tropical light. "Paul!" I called, "You have got to try this!"

He ripped one off the bunch. He peeled, took a bite. His eyes widened as he savored the familiar, yet utterly new sensation. He swallowed. "Damn, that's good." 

"I know, right?"

He took another bite. "Holy shit, that's good."

I laughed, "That was an orgasm of a banana."  

"You're a classy broad, Nance."

"You know it." We sat on the balcony, resting together like the bananas we just consumed. I held his hand, and watched the sailboats glide on the turquoise waters. "Hey, Honey?"


"There might be something to this eating local thing."

"I guess we'll just have to stay here forever." 

"I guess. Worth it."

This week's prompt asked us to describe our favorite fruit or vegetable.

If you want to see pictures of our St. Lucia trip, click here. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Home From St. Lucia

Tomorrow, I may find some words. Today, I am still feeling the gentle rock of the sailboat and the warm ocean breezes.

For now, all I have are images from St. Lucia.

Arrived! Happy Birthday to me!

 The view from our balcony. We stayed at Oasis Marigot Bay. Stunning. Serene. Perfect.

We slowed down, remembered how to look, how to listen.

The world exploded with moments of whimsy and light. 
Long, uninterrupted meals. Completed thoughts.
Warmth. Sunshine. Crashing Waves. 
Best friends. Partners. So very, very happy.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Guest Post: The Crayon Wranger

I cannot believe my luck! The Crayon Wrangler is guest posting for me today! She is funny and talented and all-around awesome. We went back and forth about possible topics. I suggested eye candy (i.e. Robert Downey, Jr.) or a good ol'-fashioned rant. You'll see that she went for the rant.

It is funny and brilliant and quintessential Wrangler. Please be sure to leave her some love and then check out her site. You can find her here  or on Twitter at  @CrayonWrangler

I was staring in the eyes of pure unadulterated anger. Eyes that flashed, teeth that bit and a jaw so firmly set that you could almost hear the bones crack under the pressure. She was really letting me have it. Words flew sharply with so many creatively strung adjectives that my brain could barely keep up with what my ears were trying to digest. It was fair. Deserved. It was also over 24 hours after the warranted incident and that girl delivering the vile speech was my reflection. The words, however were meant for someone else.

A good rant is a thing of beauty. Craftsmanship of emotional words with direct intention. A rant also needs to be delivered in a timely manner. I am a tardy rant giver.

I often picture the beloved Martha on PBS Kids show Martha Speaks. Martha is a dog who eats alphabet soup. Instead of all those letters going to her stomach, they float up to her brain and give her the power of speech. I know...I know. It’s not physically possible and that’s a rant for another day, if I could indeed deliver a rant. The animation shows all these letters swimming around inside an empty skull. When I get frustrated and it’s time for a good rant, all my rant words begin swimming inside an empty skull. By the time I get them all sorted out and ready to deliver, the moment has passed and the rant is misplaced in time.

Time and time again I have needed to rant, wanted to rant. A customer service representative that did me wrong. A celebrity that flamboyantly displayed ignorance as acceptable. A mother on the playground who questioned my parenting. A blog post that crossed the line of online attacks. A company that repacked my favorite sauce with the words “80% Better” that indicates they have been delivering 20% substandard crap until now and charging me the same price. Oh how I need to rant but those words just swim around and later that reflection will let me have it. The words will be deserved and they will bite.

In a way I am glad I can’t deliver a timely rant. That lady in the mirror is a scary one and sometimes those words are harsher than anyone deserves to hear. It’s possible that those people made a mistake, had a bad day or worded something incorrectly. I’m not sure if they really warrant the venom that never makes it out in time. Perhaps being a tardy ranter has made me seem apathetic or like a doormat, but then maybe it has shown grace that was needed. Just maybe they walked away from it thinking that they were in the wrong. It’s possible that a rant that never came saved a feeling that couldn’t be repaired. I wrote this I realized it was a rant. I guess I can do it without the mirror after all.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Guest Post: Rachel from The Lazy Christian

While I am away, I am honored to have a few guest posts. I am delighted to feature Rachel from The Lazy Christian today.  You can find her on Twitter at @LazyChristian. Rachel is a new read, and I love how she is funny, real, and wise. She discusses faith in an honest and thought-provoking fashion. Please take the time to read this beautifully rendered memoir, and then be sure to check out her site as well. Thanks, Rachel!

Past Curfew
by Rachel A. Snyder (The Lazy Christian)

I quietly tiptoe up the stairs. I open the door to my room gently, listening to my parents snoring across the hall. There’s no way they’ll hear me over that. Still, I turn the glass knob gently so the door doesn’t make a sound as I latch it closed behind me. I flop down on my bed, burying my face deep into the quilted comforter.
I hate this comforter. It’s scratchy. It’s loud with big pink and purple flowers. This isn’t what I’d have chosen. Anyone who knows me wouldn’t have chosen it.

Yet, my parents chose it for me. Telling.

I roll over to my back and stare up at the ceiling. The four posts of my bed are just in my peripheral vision, looming high above me. I can take the top off that post and use it for a microphone, you know. Sometimes I do. I still have my New Kids on the Block slap bracelets from fifth grade wrapped around one of the posts. The decorative piece on the headboard is missing. I don’t remember how that broke off. But I still have a glow-in-the-dark cross that says “God is Love” hanging there. I got that in sixth grade for memorizing Bible verses.

Something by the door catches my eye. It’s the “10,000 Things To Be Happy About” Page-a-Day calendar sitting on my dresser. In bright, red Sharpie, under the typed heading “Five Things to be Happy About Today,” it reads, “Kids who come home on time.” Various times are written and then crossed out, except for 1:30. That must be when she went to bed. I wonder how long she’d been planning to deface my calendar. Had she been planning this for a while and just waiting for the opportunity to use it? Not like I’ll ask her. In fact, I’ll act like I didn’t see it. That’ll really get her.

The clock now reads 2:30. In the morning. It’s the latest I’ve ever stayed out. I’ll be grounded from the car, for sure. I’ll probably have to walk to work. They didn’t care where I went until I started driving that jalopy. Not sure if they care about me or the car. I’d guess the car.

I open up the bottom drawer of my antique cherry dresser and grab a dorm shirt. Why do pajama drawers always have that pajama drawer smell? I even changed my pajamas from the other dresser to this one and there’s still a weird, stale smell. I throw the nightgown over my head, accidentally hitting my elbow on the curved edge of the dresser. I scream silently as my funny bone vibrates. This room is too small for all this furniture.

I wonder what they’re going to do with it when I leave. The furniture, I mean. I can’t take it with me to college. Are they going to turn my room in to a guest room? We never have guests as it is. They’re going to want to paint it, I’ll bet. This Frosted Lilac isn’t going to suit her when I’m gone. I hope they throw out this comforter. I sure don’t want it.

One more year. One. Then I’ll be gone. I wonder if I’ll ever have to come back. I’ll never sleep in this room again, if I can help it.

I hear Max pad softly up the stairs and to my door, sniffing to let me know he wants in. He doesn’t want to wake my parents, either. I open the door and close it quickly behind him. He lays down next to my bed. He’s too big to climb up on it, but he’d do it if he could. His nails make a scratching sound as he slides down into his place. This wooden floor is cold, and my genuine sheepskin rug—a gift from my aunt’s trip to New Zealand—was ruined in the wash by You-Know-Who. Why she thought it was machine washable, I don’t know. But now the floor is cold. Bare.

I sit down on the floor next to Max. Then I lean on him. Then I lay on him. I bury my face into the ruff of fur at his neck.

And I cry myself to sleep—right there on the floor—hugging the only living thing in this house who notices me.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Whole New World

We really need this. But I'm absolutely terrified.

This Friday, Paul and I are boarding a plane and traveling to St. Lucia for a week.

Without the boys.

Do you see my heart palpitating from here? Do you note my quivering fingers and quickened breath?

We've never done anything like this before. When we travel, we stay with friends or family. We always visit children's museums and shut down shop around 7:30 for bedtime.

This is a whole new world.We are trading potty training and preschool pick-up for sun-baked hammocks and clear blue waters. We will sleep in, eat when we want, love when we want, and take the time to rediscover each other. 

I will be completely unplugged, except for possible email updates with my parents, who will watch the boys.  

When we got married almost twelve years ago, we shared a mutual passion for seeing the world. He had lived in Korea--he even spoke the language fluently. I had spent time in Hong Kong, and yearned to see more. But finances and children kept those dreams from actually happening.

So why aren't I smiling? Because right now I'm completing paperwork and putting my ducks in a row. I am writing down lists of emergency contacts and hoping that the thing I forget is not the crucial thing they need.

I am already missing the bedhead and the kisses, the acrobatics and insights.

I know I will get over it.

But still--I am wearing anxiety as my accessory these days.

So, give a girl some advice. If you've done this, is there anything you would recommend? If you want to tell me I'm being ridiculous, I'll take that too.

I leave on Friday. Please stop by and visit the guest posters coming here. You'll be glad you did.